It’s a classic case of a state going to any extreme after being starved of alcohol. Its people have looked for liquor equivalent in some other syrup. This dangerous choice has cost the lives of many.
According to a report published in The Times of India, seven people died in Kheda district after consuming Kalmeghasava Asava Arishta’ syrup from Kishor Sodha, a grocery store owner at Bilodara village near Nadiad town.
Popularly called ‘laal bottle’, the syrup cost Rs 130 in Kheda. Ahmedabad police raided two herbal syrup units in August 2023, seizing syrup containing 86% of alcohol.
The easy access to syrup adulterated with alcohol at grocers and paan shops belies the Gujarat Police’s claim of raiding illegal syrup factories.
Now, following deaths at Kheda, the police claim to have raided 3,000 syrup units.
Incidentally, Sodha, who had reportedly been selling the unauthentic syrup for the last three years, was fortunate to survive even though he drank a small portion of it.
His father Sankal Sodha wasn’t lucky – the methanollaced syrup killed him.
Sodha, a BJP treasurer, and his brother Ishwar were arrested after two autopsies established the presence of methanol in the victims.
The report mentioned that police identified three suspects, Vadodara-based residents Yogesh Sindhi, Nitin Kotwani and Bhavesh Sevkani, who supplied the syrup to Kishor Sodha.
Kotwani had served a term in prison two years ago for manufacturing sanitiser containing methanol.
The Sodha brothers and these three men face charges of culpable homicide, attempted culpable homicide, forgery, adulteration of drugs, sale of adulterated drugs, criminal act done by several persons with common intention and destruction of evidence, apart from charges under prohibition laws.
The accused reportedly got a licence from the Food and Drug Control Authority (FDCA) to make beverages during the peak od Covid-19. Still, they misused it to make spurious syrup, a police officer claimed. Investigations revealed that they had used sanitiser stock containing 50-60% methanol to make the syrup.
The TOI report added that despite the syrup’s heinous properties, 48 of 55 people from Bilodara, Bagadu and Vadadala villages of Kheda are still alive after consuming it.
Meanwhile, psychiatrists and rehabilitation specialists in Gujarat believe syrup addiction has gone up over the past 2-3 years.
Dr Rajendra Anand, a rehabilitation specialist from Gandhinagar, told TOI that misleading labelling on the bottles makes diagnosis difficult: “When I started coming across people who displayed symptoms of opioid and liquor withdrawal, I was clueless about what they were addicted to. The patients couldn’t explain what exactly they drank. They would only tell me that they had ayurvedic syrup they bought from a paan shop.”
Dr Ramashankar Yadav, a psychiatrist with Government Mental Hospital in Ahmedabad city, seconded him. He told the daily, “I insist on seeing a photograph of the syrup bottle so that I know its ingredients. The bottles always list herbal ingredients, but the patients show symptoms of opioid or alcohol addiction.”